Internet Explorer 9 Launch: What You Need to Know

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 launches tonight at 9 p.m. Pacific, accompanied by a celebratory bash at the South-by-Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. The hoopla might be appropriate, because IE9 is Microsoft's most aggressive attempt yet at hanging onto its lead in the browser market.

Here are the highlights of Microsoft's new browser.

IE 9 Looks Like a Modern Browser

The Internet Explorers of yesteryear opted for clutter-inducing features like Web Slices, but not IE9. The browser's new look is a simple combination of tabs and a unified bar for Web addresses and searches, all on a single horizontal strip. On appearances alone, IE9 has joined competitors Firefox and Chrome in the race for minimalism, and if you can deal with having tabs and the address bar on the same line, you'll have more room for Web pages than any other browser.

Acts Like a Modern Browser

IE9's other big features aren't ones that you'll notice right away. This will be Microsoft's first browser to fully support HTML5, for websites that want to embed videos, animations and audio without plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight. IE9 can also use a computer's GPU to render graphics and can take advantage of multi-core processors by compiling JavaScript in the background on separate core of the CPU.

It Loves Windows (Vista and 7, That Is)

Microsoft hopes that you'll make Internet Explorer 9 part of your desktop by incorporating Websites into Windows. You can do this by dragging any open tab into the task bar or start menu, where they'll remain as shortcuts. Websites can also create "jumplists" for these pinned programs, showing a selection of quick links when you right click on the shortcut. But XP owners won't be able to feel the love; IE9 only works with Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Is it a Modern Browser?

I've already written about why IE9 isn't going to win me over, but the biggest reason is its lack of web apps. With the Chrome Web Store up and running, and Mozilla building its own app system, IE9 risks falling behind on the fertile ground of helping users discover and access useful Web services.

[See: Internet Explorer 9 Beta: A Visual Tour]

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